Will chain link fencing around the elementary schools make them safer?

fencing 2Like every other school district in America, the TE School District began talking about school security after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children.  If you recall, the School Board hired former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief Andy Chambers as the District’s safety consultant. The School Board announced the formation of a District Safety Committee; members to include Chambers, District staff and residents. The District Safety Coordinator is Conestoga High School Assistant Principal Andy Phillips. Other than Chambers and Phillips, I am not certain who else is on the District Safety Committee and I could not find the information on the school district website.

Sandy Hook and other shootings have pushed the issue of school security into the limelight … we all want our kids to be safe. One of the security upgrades recommended by the Safety Committee to the Facilities Committee is the construction of 5-foot high chain link fencing around each of the District’s five elementary schools – Beaumont, New Eagle, Valley Forge, Hillside and Devon.  The Facilities Committee acted on the Safety Committee’s recommendation sending out request for proposals for the fence construction. The capital project contract for site fencing at the elementary schools was approved by the school board on February 24, 2014 and the contract was awarded to the low bidder New Holland Chain Link, LLC for $220K.

I have received emails and phone calls from parents and neighbors associated with New Eagle, Valley Forge and Hillside schools, all opposing the school board’s decision to construct the chain link fencing. And the TE School District planned fencing project was on the local ABC Philadelphia news last week with residents explaining their opposition.  I have to say that other than the school board, I have not heard anyone speak in favor of the 5-foot chain link fencing.  

Residents oppose the chain link fences for a variety of reasons. Some of the arguments opposing the fencing include:

  1. The planned fencing will make it more difficult for children to evacuate in emergencies. Concern that children could be trapped inside the school property because of the fencing and that the fencing could hamper emergency aid from entering the school property.
  2. A limited number of gates in the fencing are planned making it difficult for children, teachers and staff to exit during emergencies.  Gates are to be placed in the fencing only where walks now exist.
  3. The fencing is on three sides of the property but full access on the front.
  4. Residents are required to obtain a building permit for fences in Tredyffrin Township, did the District file the necessary forms?
  5. Five foot high fencing is not a deterrent, especially given it is only on three sides.
  6. Monetary cost to the taxpayers – $220K
  7. The fencing gives an institutional appears to the schools.
  8. Inconvenience, children who have safely walked to school will now (in some cases) be forced to take the bus because of the fencing.
  9. Complaints about the aesthetics, especially given that the elementary schools are located in residential areas; citing other school districts that have used wrought iron fencing (rather than chain link) so that it blends with the neighborhood.

Aside from aesthetics and inconvenience that the fencing may cause to residents, the real question that we need to have answered is, “Will the chain link fencing make the schools safer?”   Rather than simply stating that the Safety Committee recommends the 5-foot high chain link fencing, did the school board receive background and research to support the committee’s position?

An update on the elementary school fencing project will be provided at on Friday, June 13, 2 PM, TE Administration Building at the Facilities Committee meeting.  According to the agenda online, the District’s architect Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot will present the update on the fencing project.

The school board approved the fencing the five elementary schools and signed a  $220K contract for this capital project.  Now the question is, will the residents have a voice in this decision or will the Board stand behind their decision?

35 Comments

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  1. This project is just another example of the ineptness of the Chairman of the Facilities Committee. Look at the move to West Valley Road and the now vacant lot where the school building lived — to the dollars lost talking about a parking lot at the Middle School and the buying taxpayers houses – now vacant land to the silliness of the tennis courts at VFE…. Can anyone tell us how this fence project will PROTECT the children???????? Stop this now — or do we have yet another contract that suggests that the District must pay MORE than the 220,000. to cancel?

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    From A Distance Reply:

    Just wait and see what he has planned down the road. Discussions have been ongoing about a his next project to spend some capital budget money, your taxpayer money, for his maintenance and storage facility on Old Lancaster Road. Maybe you missed the consent agenda at the monthly board meeting, where the board approved spending over $250,000 for the architect to coordinate the final plans in preparation for TT planning commission hearing. The estimated cost for the building of this facility is projected at $3.1 Million. Your education dollars at work folks. You have time to check out the preliminary plans at Friday’s Facilities meeting, 6/13/14 or on the committee agenda on the district’s website.

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  2. fencing around the elementary schools
    A compromise could be to enclose the school excluding the parking area. Let the kids walk to school the safe way. Zodnter 856 Monteith Dr.
    New Eagle Elementary School

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  3. Any argument of so-called “protection” is completely outweighed by the costs of this project — safety in the event of emergency (getting kids out, getting aid in), safety causing anyone walking to school (including after school and summertime) to take a more hazardous route to school (or climb the fence), aesthetics of a prison-like school in the middle of our beautiful suburbs. Remember, there will be complete open access (no fence) on one side of the property, and a 5 foot fence that can easily be cut or climbed everywhere else. If there are gates, who controls the key? Will that person be available during an emergency situation (that could be after-school hours)? The school board needs to consider the community’s input on this.

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  4. Well they lied about the start date as they started today and totally destroyed beautiful landscape behind my house and neighboring homes which is so disheartening. They have not maintained the creek in 40 years according to my neighbor and that is a safety hazard for kids at New Eagle. My neighbor, my family and other neighbors have historically weed wacked back there and tried to clean out the creek regularly to maintain it a dry bed creek as it is supposed to be. This fence will prevent us from doing that thus creating a more dangerous debris filled creek with water build up in it- a potential drowning hazard!They have downed trees in the creek and have not removed them despite several phone calls alerting the district thus it backs up and floods the area. Children play in that creek as it stands and it will only become more hazardous with a fence as it will be maintained even less. Volunteer T/E citizens will be prevented from continuing maintenance of this area. Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior and based on that the school district will continue to ignore keeping this area safe and it will only become more hazardous!

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I thought that the fencing project was not starting until school ended — did I miss something? Or did the project start today because the Facilities Committee meeting happens to be tomorrow? Timing …

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    Anon Reply:

    I have an 8 foot fence around my property and the lawn care people easily make their way over it, in a few steps (without a ladder), when I forget to leave the fence open for them. This fence will NOT afford the school children any protection. I think the Facilities Committee need to reconsider this project, in light of the facts.

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  5. This fence idea is nuts. We have a school district that has openly talked about financial woes, have treated to outsource aides, cut teachers…..the list goes on. Now they want to spend $250k on a bunch of fences? Are they serious?

    How about this……save the money, and put it in the bank.

    Whoever came up with this idea needs to have their head examined. Inept leadership.

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  6. I have been annoyed many times before by the remarks made on this blog, but I have never been so outraged that I felt the need to respond. I am beyond frustrated with this post and the comments. You are not responsible for the lives of dozens of children every day. School safety is about protecting student LIVES. Sad, scary, but true. This is the world we live in. I feel sad for people who are more concerned with the “aesthetics” of their property verse the safety of the students and staff. While the district, the administration, and the staff are not perfect, one thing they take very seriously is student safety. The staff and safety committee have had many discussions, trainings, and implemented tons of changes in regards to safety. Do you honestly think they would build a fence that blocks their own evacuation routes? For obvious reasons the evacuation routes of the schools are not public knowledge. The public should not know every detail of the safety plans of the school district, it would obviously make it unsafe to let everyone (include potential threats) know of all of the reasoning behind the districts safety plans. This is not one topic that is appropriate for full public discussion. I’m all for public discussion on most topics, and I’m the first to admit that the administration and district as a whole are far from perfect, but this is ridiculous. The fences are needed. If the districted listed every pro and con of the fences to the public, it would defeat the point of having school safety plans. The public holds the potential threats, and while they are an extremely small minority, I don’t want those people knowing our safety plans. The fences are more important than how your backyard looks. Every option was weighed and the fences have way more pros than cons. I understand and respect that schools are publicly funded, but it is not appropriate for every decision to receive public input. The fences are needed. Sometimes you just need to trust. Trust that the district is doing every reasonable thing they can to keep the district’s children safe. Trust that the fences are worth it. Trust that the people who are responsible for the lives of your children feel that the fences are needed.

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    Hillside Elementary Parent Reply:

    You say that it is “not appropriate for every decision to receive public input” — my children’s safety is important to me and how their safety is managed at school should require public discussion. You say, “Trust that the fences are worth it” and “Trust that the people who are responsible for the lives of your children feel that the fences are needed”. I need to KNOW (not just ‘trust’) that 5 foot chain link fences are the most effective solution in keeping my children safe. Don’t the lives of all our children deserve that?

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    Doug Jones Reply:

    Looks like this is one piece of a complete security strategy based on analysis and recommendations by qualified professionals experienced in the evolution of security needs, over time, on T/E campuses. What is missing from the decision to move forward?

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    Alarmed Parent Reply:

    Please note that the main concern and discussion here is NOT having to do with “backyard looks.” (And if it were, there are certainly more pleasing options than chain-link). It is completely reasonable to demand explanations on the safety of our kids when all of the evidence in front of us screams unsafe and not beneficial. There is no reason why this cannot be explained to us without divulging the details of a secret evacuation plan. All we see is major costs here, and you think we should just trust that there is a benefit. Sandy Hook parents trusted that their kids were safe. We learned to look at everything differently now. Don’t blast parents for asking questions and demanding some answers.

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    Doug Jones Reply:

    Answers to what questions? What questions have not been answered? If a question is asked, and answered, but one does not like the answer, that does not mean the question has not been answered.

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    Kathleen Johnson Reply:

    Number one question not answered thoroughly: how will children be evacuated from the property, and aid get to them, at New Eagle Elementary school in the event of an emergency, particularly if the emergency blocks access to the only entrance/exit on Pugh Road? The answer the school board has given: they do not ever want to evacuate children from the property — it would likely be a nightmare to account for kids running into the neighborhood. But wouldn’t it better better to account for live children in a neighborhood, then the alternative, where they have been corralled into the corner of the property? At New Eagle, the fence is creating a true evacuation hazard. The school board has also responded that evacuation plans cannot be made public, for obvious reasons. But have they themselves asked the questions of their safety expert? Have they seen the evacuation plans? It appears they are happy to accept advice that does not appear sound to much of the community.

    The school board has compromised since this original posting and agreed to provide gates in logical places — this solves most of the problems regarding walkers and neighborhood access. In that regard, they have listened to the community and responded. There are still concerns regarding evacuation — corralling 500 people quickly through two gates, that are hopefully not locked. There are still concerns about the benefit of a five foot cutable, climbable fence. The boundaries are already clearly delineated at these schools, particularly at New Eagle, so a fence is not needed for that purpose. Internet research questions the benefit of fences as a security measure at schools in general — it would be nice to see the report that shows that this type of fence is really worthwhile in these school’s geographic locations. It would be reasonable to expect that the school board has thoroughly reviewed this report — but one of the members specifically stated at the facilities meeting that she has not, but is confident just because this is a hired “expert.” We didn’t vote for the expert, and experts are not a substitute for doing proper homework before approving such a major project. I would venture to say that there are no true “experts” in this disturbing field of preventing tragic situations such as Sandy Hook. Yes, we need people to study these situations and make recommendations, but we should also questions recommendations that appear haphazard. Just doing something because we feel the need to do something may not be a proper approach, and it is hard to see how this type of fence, in these locations, is really worthwhile.

    Shining Light Reply:

    I wasn’t at the facilities committee meeting and I don’t know Ms. Johnson, but if her claim is true that:

    “one of the members specifically stated at the facilities meeting that she has not thoroughly reviewed the report., but is confident just because this is a hired expert.”

    then the board failed to perform its duty of inquiry. The Board needs to create an environment of accountability and transparency and their trust in and deference to administrators and “the experts” they hire are worrisome. When Directors rely solely on administrators and “the experts” (an ex police chief fired for misconduct) they hire to observe and report and take action, why do we need a board?

    IMO, this is the root of the problem. We need Directors who have the interest, desire, time and courage to study and understand the issues, (especially the big ones like this one) so parents know decisions are fully vetted and they know the benefits will match or exceed the costs to tax payers. The Board is allowing itself to be marginalized by not demanding thorough information on the affairs in the district.

    Thanks to all tax payers and parents who are studying the issues, asking questions and pushing hard to get thorough and forthright information.

    And thank-you to Liz Mercagliano and Scott Dorsey for standing up and casting no votes on the $22,000 raise for Art McDonnell (business manager, now making the same pay as the highest paid governor in the country) and bonuses for administrators when tax payers are continually socked with tax increases, class sizes continue to balloon, parents pay out of pocket for activities, kids programs are cut and fund raising for the dental clinic is nixed.

    Your votes are meaningful and important. Thank-you.

    Tredyffrin resident Reply:

    As a former teacher and a parent who had 3 children go through T/E schools I have to comment that I am truly surprised by the Elem Teacher’s post. How is a 5 foot chain link fence going to protect students lives??? Who is going to be deterred from attacking a school by a 5 ft fence ? The mentally ill person who is planning an attack on an elementary school will not be deterred from doing so by a fence that doesn’t even surround the entire school. They can just drive or walk right up to the school. The measures taken thus far are all sound: bullet proof glass, security cameras, requiring visitors to show a driver’s license.
    This fence idea is a waste of money and it keeps the very people who pay taxes and send their children to the schools from access to the school by walking. Yes, there are “evil people” in the world but a chain link fence will not keep them off school grounds. Why not compromise and chain link fence the playground and leave the perimeter open? This way walkers can get to the school without having to take a bus.

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  7. Safety of students is my top concern. My daughter currently walks to school, and the proposed fence will eliminate her safe walking route. The school district representative I was put in touch with told me that she may need to walk to a bus stop 1/4 of a mile away and on Pugh road to take the bus to a school that borders our backyard. While the safety of the school as a whole should be the main priority, I would like to know that students like my daughter were carefully considered and that there are no safe and cost effective options that will allow students to continue to walk to school. If so, then I will happily carpool to school. This has not been about aesthetics for me or for any of the concerned parents I have talked to yet.

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  8. School Fencing: Benefits and Disadvantages
    http://www.wssca.org/pdf/School%20Fencing-%20Benefits%20and%20Disadvantages.pdf

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    Debbie Watson Reply:

    Thanks for the informative article Keith. This clearly shows that the chain link fence will not have the desired effect for our school districts needs. Save the 220K. If this article was available to Keith’s school district, surely someone from T/E should have been able to research it as well.

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    Doug Jones Reply:

    What “desired effect” is the fence “clearly” not going to have?

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    Debbie Watson Reply:

    Doug,If you read the article that Keith attached the link to, it states that a chain link fence does not offer what the district was trying to accomplish . The report describes different types of fences and what kind of protection they offer. If the district really wanted protection they would have to go with a more expensive type of fence. What they are installing is really just a waste of money.

    Doug Jones Reply:

    Debbie,
    You still haven’t stated the Board’s “desired effect.” Thanks, but I did read the Hanover Report. It starts by covering several benefits that can come from fencing such as:

    “ Territoriality: Using buildings, fences, pavement, sign, and landscaping to express
    ownership
     Natural surveillance: Placing physical features, activities, and people to maximize
    visibility
     Access control: The judicial [sic] placement of entrances, exits, fencing, landscaping,
    and lighting.
    As we explain below, fencing is an integral aspect of each of these strategies in
    considerations of safe school design.”

    Then it talks about positives and negatives of various types of fencing including chain-link:

    “Figure 2.1: Overview of Advantages and Disadvantages of Specific Fencing Materials
    MATERIAL
    Chain‐link
    ADVANTAGES
     Least expensive
     Easily installed
     Maintain visibility
    DISADVANTAGES
     Easily breached
     Targets for vandalism”

    All that’s missing is the desired effect that the Board has in mind. Without their list in front of me, I speculate that three of the Board’s desired effects match up to the three advantages listed here. I doubt the Board expects 100% security from a fence given reinforced windows, and limited-entry systems are already in place. So, what else is missing?

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    Sidelines Reply:

    Thx.

  9. keith, i read the link. it seems that if a fence i to go up, what is proposed is the wrong type.. Also, whose idea was this originally? the safety cop hired by waters? And I would love to see more about the bid process… Why don’t I trust that?:)

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  10. I get the need to “do something”,although this really is not going to work. I feel its a little CYA on the part of the township in case something awful happens. People move to this area for the good schools, in our neighborhoods, that are easy to walk to. If safety is the goal, lets fence the new chester county trail, Gateway shopping center, Wilson park, the streets, Its never ending. We are never totally safe… Ever seen a school bus accident? Maybe we should ban those too.

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    Doug Jones Reply:

    What if the goal is not to go from a level of 40/100 safety level to 90/100, but to 60/100? 100/100 is likely not achievable without huge sacks of gold in investment. Huge. Not reasonable. However, the fence WILL create distinct psychological and physical campus boundaries, present an obvious obstacle to unauthorized approach, and encourage all traffic towards the front of the buildings where humans and technological security systems are the strongest. Sounds like good strategy to me. In the event of an emergency, the kids are not going to be running off scattering into neighboring yards where they cannot be accounted for anyway. They will lock down.

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    Debbie Watson Reply:

    The school board should use some of the money allocated toward a multi-million dollar maintenance building that we don’t need and install the proper kind of fences. Do it right once and be done with it. This district has plenty of money-they are just distributing it in the wrong way. The priorities need to change and put the money back toward the kids-programs, safety, activities, etc.

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    Doug Jones Reply:

    What is the proper kind of fence?

    Sidelines Reply:

    Doug
    Thanks for your persistence in addressing these comments. One of the hardest parts about reading blogs for information is that with so much of the commentary being anonymous, it is really little more than anecdotal. There are thousands of kids in the schools, it’s a $100+ million dollar enterprise. Capital spending has zero relationship to expense budgeting in the practicality of it, and without attending and asking questions of the committee, not of each other on this blog, it only creates heat, not light. I was on the board for 3 terms — with today’s public scrutiny done from the weeds, I would not do it. Don’t know why anyone does. And to be sure, fewer and fewer do….elections not exactly high profile.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    “public scrutiny done from the weeds” so — are you saying that the public should not comment on the actions of our elected officials? Is your idea that we elect the school board to represent those that they are elected to ‘serve’ but then we are to stand back and support all their decision-making? Is the public not allowed to scrutinize their elected officials, especially on the “$100+ million dollar enterprise” that is our taxpayer dollars? Or, is it only OK for former or current school board officials to have valid opinions? You criticize anonymous comments, yet because you were “on the board for 3 terms”, its somehow OK that you post anonymously. I believe that all residents have a right to question the decisions of our elected officials whether they choose to do so anonymously, like you, or like me, using my own name.

    margaritiaville Reply:

    lock down unless they are on the playground..

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    Doug Jones Reply:

    And then what? There’s no contingency for kids playing outside?

    margaritiville Reply:

    seems they have done enough with the security measures put in place previously.. this fence will be an eyesore and broken down, rusted, ripped, trampled on in no time.. we have gone mad.

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  11. Goodness…what a sensitive response. My comment was to Doug agreeing that much of the commentary was without information, but more scrutiny of a decision that few took any interest in until it was made. And again, my anonymity is hardly secret–i just do not want a search of my name to result in every blog comment through the ages. After the attack on you by the BOS and my speaking on your behalf on camera, I hardly think I am hiding in the weeds.

    The anonymous pot shots cost nothing–and seem to ramp up the anger. I have thanked you often enough for this forum, but I dont find the constant anti-establishment rants on so many topics in TESD to be serving the purpose of educating the public, because many of the commenters speculate and not report. CHV (?) told us weeks ago about the process for the fences.

    Yes — I comment here with some long ago background, but i spent the bulk of 12 years doing extensive research and reading and learning. The presumption by many of your followers is that these elected folks should virtually survey them for every decision. 13,000+ surveys on the Superintendent search sent out to taxpayers, and only a few more,than 1,000 surveys completed, with about a third by students? Whose opinions should the board consider? They get info, they have meetings, and they make decisions. I guess as sensitive as you are on behalf of your anonymous contributors, Im sensitive on behalf of people who attend countless meetings, read enormous amounts of information, and still–at least according to the anonymous experts–get it wrong. Few of the decisions made in a school system have only one outcome…and let me assure you lest anyone cares…I never criticize on this blog without making my opinion clear to those in the district that are involved.

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